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Backyard Gardener: Container gardening with vegetables

Hello Mid-Ohio Valley Farmers and Gardeners. Hopefully the cold weather is behind us and we can begin planting those warm season vegetables everyone loves. Tomatoes and peppers come to my mind, but many people will plant sweet corn, summer squash and, of course, half runner beans.

If you are looking for a crop that will produce high yields for canning and freezing, plant a few rows of half runner or bush type beans. No matter if they are ‘State Half Runner’ or other quality varieties such as ‘Provider’, ‘Contender’ or ‘Topcrop’, once half runner beans start producing, you will have a bumper crop to can or freeze for the winter.

Vegetables are not restricted to being grown in raised beds or traditional gardens. Container gardening is becoming very popular, and may I say, trendy. Containers can be grown where traditional gardens are not possible including porches, apartment balconies, small courtyards, decks, patios and areas with poor soil. They are an ideal solution for people with limited mobility, in rental situations or with inadequate time to care for a large traditional garden.

Since containers are portable, they can be placed around the home landscape. Vegetables in containers can add instant color to the landscape and interest to outdoor living spaces. People generally consider containers for annual blooming plants, but you can easily produce quite a bit of food planting tomatoes, peppers, greens such as lettuce and many other vegetables using containers.

Adequate sunlight, water and fertilizer, plus a well-drained growing medium are essential for successful container gardens. Container gardening is a perfect activity for beginning gardeners who are intimidated by large landscape projects. Container gardens are also a great solution for advanced gardeners who are interested in showcasing particular plants or gardening skills.

Containers may be plastic, clay, ceramic or wood. Almost any type of container can be used if it has drainage holes in the bottom. Drill drainage holes in plastic and wood containers, if no drainage holes are provided. If using wood, avoid treated lumber and select containers made of red cedar or redwood.

Most vegetables require containers that hold at least 6 to 8 inches of potting mix. Root crops, such as carrots, and tomatoes and other large plants require deeper containers. Make sure the container is large enough for the size of the roots of the plant when it is fully grown. Tomatoes will require larger pots than lettuce and herbs.

Container gardens require a growing medium that drains well yet does not dry out too fast. Soilless potting mixes have several advantages over soil. They are free of plant disease organisms and weed seeds are less likely to compact, hold moisture and plant nutrients well — and are lightweight, making the container more portable. Soilless potting mixes can be purchased from garden centers and retail outlets. Most native soils have a high percentage of clay particles that easily compact which reduces the oxygen available to the roots. Purchased potting soil may contain pasteurized soil, sphagnum peat moss, vermiculite, perlite and composted manure.

Most vegetables that grow in a backyard garden do well as container-grown plants. Look for “bush” or “dwarf” varieties of the crops you want to grow. There are quite a few tomato and cucumber varieties bred for small-space gardening. Those with compact growth habits are best suited for containers. Nearly all vegetables grow and produce best when grown in full sunlight. Plants that bear fruit, such as cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, require at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. Root crops such as beets, carrots, and onions also require 6 or more hours of direct sunlight. Leafy vegetables such as cabbage, lettuce, and spinach tolerate more shade than most other vegetables.

Be prepared to water more frequently with containers. Plants grown in containers dry out quickly from sun and wind. Some plants may require daily watering. Apply enough water to reach the bottom of the container and allow the excess to drain through the drainage holes. Never allow the soil to dry out completely between waterings; this may cause the plants to drop their fruits and flowers. However, overwatering also will slowly kill plants because the roots will not receive enough oxygen.

Do you want to know one of the secrets to success with containers? It important to water at the root level. void wetting the leaves, especially if watering late in the day. Wet leaves encourage the development of plant diseases. Keep in mind container-grown plants require watering more frequently than traditional garden-grown vegetables. They have less soil from which to obtain nutrients. A soluble fertilizer (15-30-15 or 20-20-20) applied once every week or two is recommended. This can be applied while watering. Many commercial potting mixes contain a slow release fertilizer. If using one of these mixes, it may not be necessary to begin fertilization until mid-summer.

Contact me with questions at the WVU Extension Office at 304 424 1960 or at jj.barrett@mail.wvu.edu. Good Luck and Happy Gardening!

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